Toolkit: Driver Behavior

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Traffic crash and fatality information - 2008 and 2009:

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people of every age from 3 through 14 Traffic fatalities accounted for more than 90 percent of transportation-related fatalities.

In 2008, 37,261 people were killed and nearly 2.2 million were injured on U.S. highways.

In 2008, an average of 102 persons died each day - one every 14 minutes - in motor vehicle crashes.

The most recent published report by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) indicates the economic cost of vehicle crashes in 2000 was $230.6 billion.

Information reported from the USDOT on July 2, 2009 indicated that the U.S. Department of Transportation had announced that the number of overall traffic fatalities reported in 2008 hit their lowest level since 1961 and that fatalities in the first three months of 2009 continue to decrease.  The fatality rate, which accounts for variables like fewer miles traveled, also reached the lowest level ever recorded. The fatality data for 2008 placed the highway death count at 37,261, a drop of 9.7 percent from 2007. The fatality rate for 2008 was 1.27 persons per 100 million VMT, about 7 percent below the rate of 1.36 recorded for 2007. Additional 2008 data will be available at a later date. (USDOT http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2009/dot9309.htm ).

In NHTSA Bulletin dated January 2010 it was reported that 2009 will be the second year in a row for a continued downward trend in total number of fatalities or about 34,000 (down 7.9 from 2008).  This information is presented in the Traffic Safety Facts Crash - Stats publication. (NHTSA - http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811255.pdf).

Distracted Driving

Driving distractions include physical actions that take your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel, mental distractions that take your mind off the task of driving and acts that include both physical and mental elements. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety).

In 2008, slightly more than almost 20 percent of all crashes in the year involved some type of distraction. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - NHTSA).

Distracted driving is the number one killer of American teens. Alcohol-related accidents among teens have dropped. But, teenage traffic fatalities have remained unchanged, because distracted driving is on the rise. (Source: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Study and NHTSA Study)

Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)

Using a cell phone while driving, whether it's hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (Source: University of Utah).

Brain Power used while driving decreases by 40% when a driver listens to conversation or music. (Source: Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University Study)

Driver inattention is a factor in more than 1 million crashes in North America annually, resulting in serious injuries deaths and an economic impact reaching nearly $40 billion per year. (Source: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety).

Alcohol and Driving:

In 2008, 11,773 (32%) of the 37,261 deaths were alcohol related. This is an average of one alcohol-related traffic fatality every 45 minutes. The 11,773 fatalities would be equal to 30 jumbo jets crashing each year.

In all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico it is illegal per se to drive a vehicle or operate a motorcycle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or above.

In 2008, 5,432 passenger vehicle drivers 21-34 years old were killed in motor vehicle crashes where 2,866 (53%) of the drivers had illegal BACs of .08 or higher.

FARS/GES 2008 Data Summary indicates that being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication was a related factor 14.3% of the time for drivers and motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes.

In 2008, a total of 1,347 children ages 14 and younger were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes of which 216 (16%) occurred in alcohol -impaired driving crashes. Another 34 children age 14 and younger were killed and were pedestrians or pedalcyclists who were struck by drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher.

Seat belts and child restraints:

In 2008, 49 states and the District of Columbia had safety belt use laws in effect.  Seat belt usage in all states in 2008 was 83%.

In 2008, of the 25,351 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities 11,477 (45%) were restrained and 13,874 (55%) were not.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of those occupants killed (12,671) during the night were unrestrained, compared to 45% (12,482) during the day.

1975 through 2008, it is estimated that safety belts saved 255,115 lives, including 13,250 lives saved of occupants 5 and older in 2008. If all passenger vehicle occupants over age 4 wore safety belts, an additional 4,152 lives could have been saved.

In 2008, 35% of passenger car occupants and 63% of light truck occupants involved in fatal crashes were unrestrained. In fatal crashes, 77% of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from vehicles were killed. Only 1% of occupants reported to have been using restraints were ejected

Research indicates that lap/shoulder seat belts reduce risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45% and moderate-to-critical injury by 50%, and 60% and 65% respectively for light truck occupants.

Every day in the United States, an average of 3 children age 15 and younger were killed and 520 were injured in motor vehicle crashes during 2008.  Properly used booster seats - which let older kids shorter than 4 foot 9 inches gain the fullest protection from standard seat belts designed for adults - substantially reduce the risk of injury in a crash.

Drowsy Driving:

Drowsy driving is a serious problem that leads to thousands of automobile crashes each year. Although no driver is immune, the following three population groups are at highest risk: young people (ages 16 to 29), especially males; shift workers whose sleep is disrupted by working at night or working long or irregular hours; and people with untreated sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.

Scientific studies show that consumption of even small amounts of alcohol intensifies pre-existing drowsiness.

Sleep is the only real antidote to sleepiness. Scientific studies show that the common stopgap remedies of getting out of a car briefly and engaging in some exercise or cranking up the radio will not counter drowsy driving.

Because young people are disproportionately represented in this category of fatalities, parents of teens and young adults should be urged to let visibly sleepy friends of their own children sleep over, much as one would urge a visibly drunk person to avoid the road until their condition improved.


In 2008, on average, a pedestrian was killed in a traffic crash every 120 minutes and injured in a traffic crash every 8 minutes.

There were 69,000 pedestrians injured in traffic crashes in 2008.

Most pedestrian fatalities in 2008 occurred in urban areas (72%), at non-intersection locations (76%), in normal weather conditions (89%), and at night (70%).

More than two-thirds (70%) of the pedestrians killed in 2008 were males. In 2008, the male pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 population was 2.04 - more than double the rate for females (0.86 per 100,000 population). In 2008, the male pedestrian injury rate per 100,000 population was 24, compared with 21 for females.

In approximately 48% of pedestrian fatality crashes in 2008 alcohol was involved. Of those, in 36% of cases, it was the pedestrian who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.


More than 53,000 bicyclists have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932 -- the first year that bicycle fatalities were recorded. The highest number of pedal cyclist fatalities ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was 1,003 in 1975.

In 2008, 716 pedal cyclists were killed and an additional 53,000 were injured in traffic crashes. Pedal cyclist deaths accounted for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities, and pedal cyclists made up 2 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year.

The 16-and-younger age group accounted for 13% (95) of the fatalities, and males accounted for 77% (73) of the fatalities among pedalcyclists age 15 and younger.

In 2008, an estimated 52,000 pedalcyclists were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Twenty-one percent (or an estimated 11,000) of the pedalcyclists injured were age 14 or younger

One-seventh (12%) of the pedal cyclists killed in traffic crashes in 2008 were between 5 and 15 years old. Universal bicycle helmet use by children ages 4 to 15 would prevent 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries, and 18,000 to 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.

Despite the fact that 70 to 80 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, only about 20-25 percent of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets.


It is estimated that 148,000 have died in motorcycle crashes since the passing of the Highway Safety and National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966.

The 5,290 motorcyclist fatalities in 2008 accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities and an additional 96,000 were injured.

In 2008, 41% of fatally injured motorcycle riders and 51% of fatally injured passengers were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash.  NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists’ lives. If all had worn helmets an additional 823 lives could have been saved.

 In 2008, 25% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had invalid licenses. In addition, 29% of the motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had BAC levels of 0.08 g/dL or higher.

Note: Sources of information - US Department of Transportation - http://www.dot.gov/safety.html, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - (NHTSA) -http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/cats/index.aspx Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) - http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ or Federal Motor Carriers Administration (FMCA) - http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/csa2010/home.htm and The Road Information Program (TRIP) - trip@tripnet.org.